When Rory McIlroy hoisted up the U.S. Open trophy on Sunday after annihilating the competition, it made me wonder just how sweet that feeling was. Normally, I would expect a major winner to certainly be happy and emotional after winning such a feat, but for Rory, it had to have felt a little different. First of all, it was Father’s day, and although he never trailed in the tournament, walking toward the eighteenth hole with the lead had to have been something remarkable for a 23-year-old kid whose dad was looking on from the crowd. Yet the maybe the biggest part of this major victory was the fact that it could have been his second. He entered Sunday at Augusta with a four-stroke lead and then unbelievably fell apart like none other. All his work the last three days was spoiled by a troubling 18 hole Sunday, and he gave away The Masters. For a young kid, it was understandable, but soon the real question was how he could respond. Fast forward to last Sunday at Congressional and I think he answered our questions. Lifting that trophy, he not only proved he could win, he proved he could recover in probably the most mental game in sports. What was the key? In my opinion, it was his defeat in April, it was the blown lead and subsequent ability to get back on the course with his valuable experiences and dedication to maintaining excellence for four days straight.
I have always felt that you appreciate something more when you have lost it, that many times, to quote Joni Mitchell, “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone.” One of my favorite movies Into The Wild centers on the story of Chris McCandless, a troubled post-college student looking for meaning in his life with the desire to escape his family living on the east coast. He decides to take a solitary road trip across America up to Alaska, meeting inspirational people along the way that help him in his quest for his identity and place in this world. Living in Alaska, he begins enjoying his time away from society, away from the mechanizations of the human race. As time progresses, however, his need for human interaction becomes evident. Four months into his Alaskan expedition, on the brink of death, he writes in his daily journal, “Happiness is only real when shared.” His days away from both his family and friends had caught up with him. He took away what he thought was the worst part of his life, and ultimately found that his joy in the world could not be supplanted by himself alone.
I love this movie because it explains the necessary ingredient of perspective we all need to have at some point. Experiencing other countries, other cultures, other people, and especially in this case, experiencing loss, help grow us as people and make us appreciate what we have or had. Unfortunately, this sometimes can happen without our discretion and sometimes at the end of our careers. In Spike Lee’s Mo Better Blues, Bleek played by Denzel Washington is a top jazz trumpeter in his own quartet. Near the end of his career he gets into a fist fight defending his friend and suffers a blow to the lip, the money-maker in the wind instrument world. His ability is forever tarnished and forces him to reevaluate his life and his friends, but with time becomes grateful for the period he was able to play.
There is a certain symmetry between these three, Bleek, Chris, and Rory. Looking closer at another similar sporting “choker,” it is not hard to find how these men’s experiences parallel with LeBron James’s and his future. Coming off a horrible NBA Finals series, LeBron seemed to be forever scrutinized about his play and lack of his closing ability. He, like many others had suffered a loss, personally and with his team. The “Greatest player in the NBA” had played nothing like it. But while all the James haters broke out their salacious Facebook statuses, there is a bright spot for LeBron and the Heat. He has now endured an excruciating loss, witnessed his own inability, and has now thrown that into his bag of learned experiences. This guy, as I have said before, has never really encountered adversity, been brought down to this level. When he lost in Cleveland, sure it was disappointing, but expectations for that team were never near the same level for this year’s South Beach “Heatles.” It is easy to take things for granted when you have been in the same system your whole life. but when you lose that, it makes you understand your privileges. Tasting defeat makes kissing a trophy that much more spectacular, ask Rory.
I am finishing up this great comedy TV series called Slings and Arrows about a Canadian theater company. In one of the third season’s episodes, there is a rookie actress completely distraught about the opening of her first show getting cancelled. She is angry, depressed, and sulky, especially after her parents came out of town to see her. This is the route many people could go to after experiencing some kind of loss in what is supposed to be an untarnished career. But the reason Rory McIlroy came back better than ever was because he realized this was natural. He understood that in order to accomplish something, many times, we must fail too.
In order to soothe the young actress, two acting veterans calm her down by giving her words of wisdom. They explain that these types of things happen to everyone. Both of them chiming in, they relate, “At the end of it all, you’ve got to have some spectacular screwups, because then you’ll have stories, and then you will have had a life.”